Someone once described progress as Father Christmas. As a boy you believe in Father Christmas, as a man you don't believe in Father Christmas, as a dad you are Father Christmas.
Predicting the future is something I spend a lot of time doing and it's quite upsetting when things are regressing rather than progressing. On a big scale we can lament that there are no longer any supersonic passenger jets, and no-one has stepped foot on the moon for thirty years. In the mobile phone world we can look at how the trends of a decade ago have gone into decline.
In the early days of mobile phones contracts put the emphasis on the first syllable, phones were big, ugly and had to be charged every day. Then came the progress. Battery life improved. We saw the Nokia 1610 with the best part of a week's standby, the beautiful 8810, StarTac and Genie
Today the rush into touch screens means that all phones look something likie an iPhone, Blackberry or an N97. All phones are slabs either with our without keypads. There is no innovation like the Danger Hiptop or Motorola Mpx. Even Motorola which could once be relied on to do something interesting if not necessarily tasteful seems to be on planet boring with the DEXT. In a bid not to look like a Razr it looks like everything else. There are flashes of brilliance like the new Sony Ericsson Pureness but what the handset world has not learnt is that trying to compete with the iPhone by looking like one is a mistake. If you want to compete with iPhone by being like one start by founding a new religion and then build a product. Otherwise run away and build something every bit as desirable but completely different: like the Pureness.
Only a tiny fraction of users install applications and fewer pay for them. The great advantage of a smartphone is that as a platform it allows operators to bundle applications – like a facebook client – and customize the front end.
I’m convinced that users of the current generation of smartphones will be looking for something cooler and with better battery life when it comes to upgrade time.
Unfortunately that upgrade period slips further and further away. The convention of one year contracts and the enlightenment of three month and one month notice contracts has gone away. Just like the mid 1980s people are tied into 18 months and two years. It won’t be long before we see minute billing.
This presents an interesting challenge for networks who want to sell more services. If applications generally come with new phones they need to promote people buying them, but if they are locked into a contract they need to get one SIM free, something that’s expensive unless you find it waiting under the tree at Christmas.
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Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column the previous Friday by subscribing here. Follow me on Twitter here.
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